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#BeingBetter Checklist: 10 Ways to Live More Sustainably Right Now

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#BeingBetter Checklist: 10 Ways to Live More Sustainably Right Now

Guest post by Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm and author of Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living

Responsible stewardship of the land and sustainable living are crafts. Living green is an art form requiring no formal training; in fact, we already innately know how to do it. Humans are natural leaders, natural innovators and have always been naturally resourceful. But we've misinterpreted our role on the planet. As a culture we've determined that the Earth is here for our use, and we've in turn treated the environment like a commodity.

But our higher level of consciousness allows us to protect. Our ability to take care of each other - not our might - is what sets us apart from other living things. It is our responsibility, not our gift, that distinguishes us.

There are easy things everyone can do to change their local ecosystem, food habits, communities, health and overall well-being. We don't have to wait around for laws or politicians or policy to change. We are not victims. We are powerful enough to make basic changes at home that will make big ripples. The changes are inexpensive, practical and healthy for everyone. 

Here are 10 things each of us can do now to live more sustainably at home.

1. Stop Making Excuses. Don't say you don't have time to cook for yourself, compost or think of ways to make the planet a brighter, sweeter, more beautiful place when the average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching television. Don't say you can't afford organic food if you still have the money for dinners out, a beer at your favorite watering hole, video games, manicures, a satellite radio subscription or a pack of cigarettes. Instead of finding all the reasons why something can't happen, focus on why something can. For the overwhelming majority of people, it is entirely possible to live healthier, happier and to practice responsible land stewardship. 

2. Love Your Body. All your work on this planet comes out of you. And the moment you start respecting and loving your own body is the moment you refuse to do anything that would put it in harm's way. Loving your self is the start toward exercise, a healthy whole-foods diet and the end of polluting, mindless buying and disconnection from the real world. Read the ingredients on your soap, shampoo and toothpaste and determine whether you want it on your skin, in your body or in nearby waterways.

3. Copy Nature. Mother Nature is one smart lady. From ethics to food production to giving more than you take, look to the land base for lessons on how to live your life. You've got to start trusting the Earth to provide. Everything you need - each and every thing! - exists in the natural world. The planet provides in abundance for your overall wellness, your medicine and your tools. You may have forgotten your faith in this bounty. That doesn't mean it isn't there. 

4. Grow Your Own Food. Growing your own food removes your need for Big Agriculture. By creating your own beds of greens, veggies and even fruit trees, you're taking yourself out of the monster machine that large-scale agriculture has become. There is no reason everyone can't be growing at least some of his or her own food. Even one thing. Even lettuce growing out of reused coffee tins in a sunny kitchen window. If you provide just one vegetable, herb or salad green you love for yourself, you'll be saving exponential amounts of money and fossil fuels otherwise spent in the transportation of that item to you commercially throughout your lifetime. Any fish tank can host an aquaponics array that will give you and your families fresh produce year-round. Herbs can grow in pots hanging from your kitchen walls. Start a community garden with your neighbors if you don't have the time to take care of so much on your own - and then split what you reap.

5.  Compost Your Food Scraps. About 20% of what we throw away as waste is actually food. Twenty percent! If no one ever threw a food scrap away ever again that would mean millions of pounds of food scraps each year turning into lush soil for backyard gardeners. Composting would minimize transportation costs associated with hauling garbage away from our homes. And it would nurture the dirt in everyone's backyard. Whether you feed your food scraps directly to your garden, or to a compost tumbler, or to the earthworms living in a container under your New York City apartment sink, you're creating a sustainable, circular system and limiting what gets added to landfills. If you don't have a garden, take your beautiful black topsoil you create and donate it to a community garden or your favorite Green Thumb. There is always a demand for gorgeous, healthy soil.

6. Eat Your Zip Code and Stop Buying Barcodes. We should all seek food closer to home, in our food shed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens. If you're not pulling it from your backyard, see if you can get it from a neighbor's or at the farmers market over the weekend. The popularity of CSAs and markets like this has made it inexcusable to buy in-season veggies from more than 30 miles away. Anything that has a barcode is a packaged food item. Avoid these as much as humanly possible. Sugar, fillers and processed ingredients are the gateways to obesity, heart disease and unnatural consumption. Get rid of this garbage.

7. Touch More. Trees you walk by. Grass. Vegetables and fruits. Each other. Touch creates empathy and a sense of connection. A hand on the back. A hug. The soft petals of a flower. Tactile sensation is extremely important for sensory development. It's therapeutic to many of our ills. We don't do enough of it. Act more patient than you feel, practice kindness, and let people be whoever they are. Loving yourself and each other goes hand in hand with being more loving to the natural world around you. We are all connected.

8. Change Your Shopping Habits. The choices you make as a consumer are your most powerful positioning points as a member of this society. Where you put your money will dictate policy, trends, supply and demand. By making small, smart decisions every day about where your food, clothes, house supplies, beauty products and every thing else you pay for comes from, you will be making the biggest impact of all. 

9. Stop Eating So Much Meat. Eighteen percent of what we call the greenhouse effect is believed to be caused by methane, much of which is caused by cud-chewers like sheep, goats, camels, water buffalo and most of all, cattle - of which the world has an estimated 1.2 billion. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, planes, ships, trucks and trains in the world combined. Seventy percent of the leveled rain forest in the Amazon is used to raise animals for meat consumption. How much of this stuff do we really need to eat? Try to lessen the amount of meat you consume on a daily basis. Shrink your meat portions when you cook at home. Try out Meatless Mondays or see if you can go a week without. A plant-based diet is a diet of peace: mind, body and soul. If you do buy meat, support the growing number of small farms doing excellent work with crop and animal rotations in pasture. Insist on buying only locally raised organic meats where farmers undertake responsible animal husbandry and holistic management. You should be able to say that the food you consumed - plant or animal -  lived a respectable life and was treated fairly. Cleaner, healthier, happier food translates into a better life for you.

10. Stop Throwing Everything Away. Paper towels, plastic cups, plastic straws, cellophane, paper napkins: stop what you are doing! Forty billion plastic utensils are used and thrown out every year in just the US; while paper products top the charts for waste added to landfills at 27%. To meet demand for plastic water bottles, Americans burn the energy equivalent of 32-54 million barrels of oil each year. So start sporting a handkerchief. Refill your water bottles. Buy some cloth napkins for goodness sake! See if you can go a whole year without using a plastic, throwaway shopping bag. Donate clothing, children's toys and used furniture to thrift shops. Post other items online for sale. And instead of paper towels, cut old clothes and towels into rags to pick up spills and clean house.

Have others to add that I missed? Note them in the comments below! 

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

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The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good

by Kate Vandeveld

We talk a lot about businesses and organizations that are focused on doing well by doing good. These are social enterprises that have built their business models around social impact: doing good is part of their brand DNA.

Equally as important are the existing companies that may not have set out originally to contribute to social good, but have implemented programs and initiatives aimed at doing good as they’ve developed. Though social impact was not built into their business models, the work that some of these large-scale companies are doing is incredibly impactful as a result of their scale and global influence.

The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good -- via WhyWhisper

What’s more, employees are an important part of the equation.  In a 2014 report, 55% of millennials surveyed said that a company’s involvement in cause-based work influences their decision to accept a job. So integrating social impact into a corporation’s strategy isn’t just good for the world, it’s actually becoming necessary for attracting and retaining talent.

Here are five of the many large corporations that are focusing on social impact, as well as how they’re doing it:

American Express

When you think of American Express, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, social impact may not be top of mind. But the company has actually developed a number of socially conscious programs in recent years. Their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs include a Leadership Academy, a historic preservation initiative, and incentivized community service.

In 2010, American Express even launched Small Business Saturday, which falls the day after Black Friday, a day that is well known for catering to large corporations. In contrast to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday supports small, local businesses by helping them spread the word about their own products and services, and encouraging consumers to shop there instead of going big. And shopping small business is important: small businesses are better for the economy, human rights, and the environment. As a whole, American Express’s efforts to have a positive impact both internally and on a global level have been huge.

Cisco

Cisco is a multinational technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells various types of networking equipment. Though its offering is not built around impact, its focus on social responsibility is one of its core values. As it states on its website, at Cisco, "any success that is not achieved ethically is no success at all."

Cisco’s CSR programs are numerous. The company leverages its tech focus to make an impact across the following areas: access to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, critical human needs and disaster relief, environmental sustainability, governance and ethics, and supply chain standards. Its Global Impact Map shows at-a-glance the incredible work that it’s doing globally, and its 2014 CSR Report details the impact that these programs are having. Cisco also has a strong focus on work-life balance internally, and works hard to foster a strong culture of empowerment, engagement and innovation among its employees.  As with American Express, Cisco has used its tech assets and scale to do immeasurable good, though social impact was not a goal of the company at its outset.

Patagonia

Patagonia, a high-end outdoor apparel company, has been making headlines for its social impact efforts over the past several years, specifically around sustainability. Patagonia has worked to increase transparency around its supply chain, giving consumers a glimpse into the environmental and social impact of developing and distributing its clothing through The Footprint Chronicles.  It’s made remarkable efforts to ensure that everything that goes into their products is traceable and responsibly sourced, as well as fair trade certified. Patagonia also gives 1% of sales to environmental organizations all over the world.

Beyond its efforts around sustainability, Patagonia has developed CSR initiatives to increase employee happiness and promote fair labor practices. As the company’s CEO Rose Marcario recently stated at the White House-hosted Working Families: Champions of Change event, Patagonia has seen a notable increase in employee retention as a result of its efforts to offer fair benefits and showing employees that the company cares about them. We’ve discussed the importance of fairness and compassion in business, and its results are made very apparent in this case.

Gap Inc.

Gap Inc. is a large-scale clothing retailer, with over 3,000 stores employing over 150,000 people globally. But producing and distributing clothing isn’t all the Gap is about. In fact, the company’s “Do More” programs are centered around its focus on positive social impact, including providing equal pay for employees of all genders, a focus on sustainability, and a commitment to maintaining safe and fair labor conditions in their 800+ global factories.

Gap Inc. also launched its P.A.C.E. program in 2007 to provide work and life advancement opportunities to the women who make their clothes. Using company resources and leveraging partnerships with local community organizations, the P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement Career Enhancement) Program provides skills, education and technical training to the women who make up 70% of the company’s team of garment makers. To date, more than 30,000 women have participated in the program.

Microsoft

As most of us know, Microsoft is a multinational technology company that primarily develops and distributes computers and computer software. We may not be as familiar with the company’s noteworthy commitment to social responsibility. The company’s social impact efforts are both internally and externally-focused, ranging from developing a diverse, inclusive, and respectful work environment for employees to consistently working towards more sustainable operations.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Microsoft’s social responsibility efforts is its expansion beyond Microsoft itself. Earlier this year, Microsoft issued a new mandate to its contractors: If they want to work with the leading tech provider, they’ll have to offer their own employees paid time off. This concept is somewhat revolutionary, and one that only a company with as much clout and power as Microsoft would be able to pull off without losing an egregious amount business. Right now, only 12% of private sector employees are given paid sick days, which is problematic in a myriad of ways. Efforts like this will go a long way to change that in the absence of federal policy change.


These are just a few of the increasing number of powerful large corporations that are working to build out their CSR efforts and have a positive impact on their employees and our world. Do you know of others? Tell us about them! We want to talk about them. Here’s how you can do it:

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Behind-the-Scenes: Building a Business that's Focused on "Better"

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Behind-the-Scenes: Building a Business that's Focused on "Better"

by Alexandra Ostrow

Two years ago, I went out on my own with the goal of doing something better -- better for the world, better for my community, and better for myself. While on my journey to do better, I've been lucky to meet some of the best. Recently, I connected with Nicole Caldwell, co-founder and CEO of Better Farm, a 65-acre sustainability campus, organic farm and artists' colony serving as a blueprint for environmentally conscious living.

Better Farm attracts those who are interested in doing "better"— growing from each experience, serving their communities, and creating something that benefits the world around them.  Nicole is also president of the not-for-profit arts and music outreach initiative betterArts, which works in tandem with Better Farm to explore the intersection between sustainability and art. She has worked as a professional writer and editor for more than a decade, and her work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader's Digest, Time Out New York, and many others. Lucky for us, her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, comes out this July through New Society Publishers.

While we wait for its release, we asked Nicole if we could share some of her work on the WhyWhisper blog. Read the interview below to learn more about Nicole, Better Farm, AND her upcoming book. Weekly posts on "Being Better" start now -- for the entire month of May!

Before starting Better Farm, what were you doing? How did those experiences bring you to where you are today?
I lived and worked in New York City throughout my 20s working as a journalist. I was fortunate to land in a vocation that allowed me to meet some unbelievable people. In that decade, I spent time with voodoo healers, the SCUBA subculture of New York City, environmentalists trying to use an endangered turtle to block condo development, San Diego's homeless population, and the Yurok Tribe of Klamath, Calif. My adventures and conversations awarded me a deep sense of wonder, belief in magic, and the ultimate gift of whimsy in my everyday life. But paying New York City rent means aiming for jobs with nice salaries over those that satisfy your passions. So through normal twists and turns, I ended up in a basement cubicle working for a paycheck at a job I loathed: covering the New York City diamond trade. I felt tired all the time. I lived for weekends. I took frequent trips to Better Farm, which at the time was a defunct commune occupied only by my uncle and two other people. He and I used to daydream about ways to revive the space: offer artist residencies, host music festivals, live off the land. But I was too chicken to make a move, so I returned each time to my cubicle. It’s funny how we refuse to take chances when we’re comfortable, even if that relative comfort isn’t making us happy.

Then my uncle passed away in March of 2009, and left me Better Farm. The timing was terrible, as death always is. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him—and I certainly wasn’t ready to take on a 65-acre property 350 miles away. My grief compounded the stress. Then the floodgates opened. My boyfriend and I broke up a week later. Then I got laid off. I felt utterly hopeless. And though I applied to job after job and tried figuring out ways to dig my heels into the ground and not change, nothing stuck. I checked into therapy and started volunteering at a community garden in the Bronx. I invited my friends over and held brainstorm sessions on what to do about Better Farm. And finally, one random night on a crosstown Manhattan bus, I just knew. In June of 2009, I sublet my apartment, loaded up my car, adopted a puppy and moved to Better Farm.

What do you find most appealing about sustainability?
Sustainability is literally the act of lending oneself to infinity. It refers to actions so unobtrusive, they can be done and done again for all time, constantly replenishing and being replenished. I take great comfort in that idea—especially in this culture of planned obsolescence and impermanence. Stepping away from that linear mode of thinking and paying attention to how nature is constantly replenishing itself has changed my life.

In your pursuit of a "better" lifestyle, what are some of your biggest obstacles?
Honestly, it is hard to not make yourself crazy. If I’m at a restaurant, I watch all the half-eaten food being taken back into the kitchen to be thrown away and feel frustrated. I have mini temper tantrums constantly over throwaway cups, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, paper napkins, paper towels. Every time I leave the farm, I’m inundated with all these things people are always throwing away. I have to control myself. It is a huge balancing act to educate people about something you care so deeply about while also not going overboard and turning people off. I get impatient: with myself, with the whole world, for not making bigger changes more quickly. We are in such desperate need for a huge cultural overhaul in how we grow our food, how we treat animals who live their whole lives serving our gluttony, in how we handle our “waste”—but we don’t need more people screaming until they’re blue in the face. If you push too hard, you ultimately alienate the very people you need to attract.

What inspired you to write a book, and how long did it take to write?
New Society Publishers actually got in touch with me to say they’d found Better Farm’s website, loved the message, and wondered if I’d ever considered writing a book. It was totally surreal—every writer’s dream. The best irony to me is that I took such a risk stepping away from New York City. Naysayers at the time told me I was throwing it all away: my degrees, my career, my potential to find a partner. People wondered how I’d be able to pursue my writing and have any semblance of a good life if I moved to a tiny hamlet of 500 people hundreds of miles from everyone I loved. Better Farm was such an unformed template, no one could see what I had in my head. I take such satisfaction in the fact that it took that leap to ultimately achieve more than I ever thought possible. When I signed my book contract, I felt so gratified. I actually had done it.

In your book, you have chapters on everything from building a better business to the intersection of sustainability and art to DIY tutorials on going green. Who do you feel will benefit most from reading Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living?
I think the book speaks most to people in the same boat I was in six years ago, experiencing a sense of detachment from who they believed they were or could be. Better is kind of a call to arms for anyone who has lost sight of the things he or she always wanted to do and accomplish and experience; people who feel beaten down by repetition. The book is designed to light a fire in people’s bellies. My hope is that readers will read the last page of Better, walk outside and bark at the moon.

In your opinion, what is the one thing every one of us can start doing now to create a better world for all?
Ditch the idea of garbage. There isn’t any system in the natural world that acknowledges waste, because there isn’t any. When we live more in rhythm with the earth, we take only what we need. We don’t throw anything away. If we eliminate the idea of garbage, then we don’t buy stuff loaded with packaging. We eat clean. We compost food scraps and paper products like newspaper. We bike instead of drive. We reuse and donate instead of throw away. If every one of us lived like this, supermarkets wouldn’t sell anything packaged or processed. Every neighborhood would have a community garden fed by compost toilets and kitchen scraps. We would hang out with each other instead of watching television. We’d cook together instead of going to a drive-through.

What companies or organizations do you personally admire? Why?
I’m in love with the Gentle Barn and Farm Sanctuary. These organizations rescue abused, neglected farm animals and give them a noble retirement filled with love and open air. Our treatment of fellow living things as products is an embarrassment, and these groups educate the public on how intelligent and gentle these creatures are. I’m also really jazzed about the work Patagonia is doing to provide ethical products to consumers, and their “Responsible Economy” project that encourages people to actually buy less—an anomaly in the corporate world. Also, Tesla is going to change the world with the recently announced home batteries.  A single battery powers your house with solar energy—or you can charge it off the power grid during cheapest energy hours. The concept is going to revolutionize how we power our homes.

What advice to you have for social entrepreneurs who are working to build more socially-conscious businesses?
Smart entrepreneurs will build business models that primarily take into account how a business can benefit the local landbase, and how it can benefit the community in which it is situated. Employees and consumers alike overwhelmingly want to be involved in ventures that answer those needs. It is a great starting point and has huge returns.

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To stay in touch with Nicole and all things Better, click on the links below:

Also, check in next Tuesday for a sneak preview of her upcoming book!  

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4 Unique Ways to Get More Sustainable This Earth Day

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4 Unique Ways to Get More Sustainable This Earth Day

by Kate Vandeveld

Earth Day is right around the corner! Next Wednesday, April 22nd to be exact. If you haven’t been as environmentally aware as you’d like to have been this year, now is the perfect moment to turn over a new leaf (get it?).

If you don’t feel like you need to make any changes, try out the Earth Day Network Carbon Footprint Calculator to get a sense as to how much your actions are impacting our planet. It might change your mind!

4 Unique Ways to Get More Sustainable This Earth Day - via WhyWhisper

Whether you want to get your hands dirty or make a different kind of impact, there are so many ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint. You probably know many of the usual suspects by now (which are all great options!), but we want to take it a step further with some unique ways that you can make an impact when it comes to sustainability.

Here are a few of them to get you started:

Buy from Eco-Friendly Social Enterprises

You don’t have to make huge changes to reduce your carbon footprint – all you have to do is make a conscious decision to make purchases from eco-friendly social enterprises.  Here are some of our favorite options:

  • method: With its unique line of beautifully designed and eco-friendly cleaning products, method has developed a brand that is appealing and impactful. Not only are their ingredients environmentally safe, but their packaging is made out of 100% recycled plastic. Their newest line is even made with recovered ocean plastic!
  • LEAP Organics: If you’re looking for environmentally friendly skincare products, LEAP Organics has you covered. They produce organic, sustainable, all natural soap and skincare products that are both cruelty-free and vegan. Like method, all of LEAP’s packaging is made from 100% recycled plastic, and their boxes are Forest Stewardship Council certified, which means that packaging paper comes from sustainable, well-managed forests. Plus, LEAP donates 1% of sales to environmental non-profits.
  • United by Blue: The clothing that you purchase has a huge impact on the environment – and you decide whether that impact is positive or negative. When you buy clothes from United by Blue, you’re choosing the former. For every item sold, the company removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through clean-ups that they organize in different U.S. cities.

These are just a few of the many amazing eco-friendly social enterprises out there. If you’re interested in learning about more, start with this list of B Corporations that are focused on the environment.

4 Unique Ways to Get More Sustainable This Earth Day - via WhyWhisper

Make Small Changes in Your Routine

You probably already know about some of the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint – switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, buying local food, and cutting back on printing, for example. But there are so many other ways that you can cut back on waste that you probably don’t even think about.

Reduce Grocery Store Packaging

When you’re grocery shopping, almost every single item that you look at is packaged, and often excessively so. And while reusable bags have been on the rise in recent years, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are still consumed each year.

Grocery store waste seems inescapable – but it doesn’t have to be. Over the past few years, zero-waste grocery stores have started to crop up in the United States. One of the first zero-waste grocery stores to open in the U.S. is In.gredients in Austin, TX. Here’s how it works: In.gredients, and other stores like it, sell all of their food in bulk. Then, you either bring your own containers with you to fill up, or the store provides containers that are 100% compostable for you to use. Stores like this are cutting down on the estimated 570 million pounds of food packaging that Americans add to landfills each year.

If you don’t have a zero-waste grocery store near you (yet), you can still majorly cut back on your grocery store waste by buying bulk whenever possible, bringing your own containers to carry home deli items, and opting for reusable bags. If you’re interested in additional tips, you can learn a lot from Bea Johnson’s blog Zero Waste Home – she and her family have been living an entirely zero-waste lifestyle since 2008!

Reusable Takeout Options

Or what about when you order takeout? Do you really have a say as to whether or not you use plastic containers when you order out? You do, actually – at least in some places.

In recent years, companies that produce reusable takeout containers have emerged to solve this problem. They operate on different models: Some sell their containers to restaurants and let them handle the rest, others implement programs at colleges and universities and in food courts. But one of our favorite of these companies, GO Box, puts the power to make sustainable takeout choices in your hands. If you want to order takeout in Portland or San Francisco, you can sign up for this subscription-based service. When you order food, you just provide your subscription information to a participating restaurant or vendor, and they will use a GO Box container for your order. Then, when you’re finished with it, all you have to do is drop the container at one of many drop sites in your city. GO Box takes care of the rest, picking up containers (by bike!), washing them, and redistributing them to vendors.

Though there aren’t an abundance of these options at this point, do a little research to see if you can find anything in your area if you want your next takeout order to be a little greener. 

4 Unique Ways to Get More Sustainable This Earth Day - via WhyWhisper

Download an Environmentally-Friendly App

If you want to take a digital approach to environmentalism, all you have to do is download an app (or a few, if you’re feeling crazy). In recent years, numbers of apps that help you reduce your carbon footprint and make environmentally friendly decisions have been developed. Here are a couple that we’re really into:

  • Oroeco: This app tracks your carbon footprint by putting a value on all of your actions – from what you eat, to how you get around, to what you buy – and adding it up to show the environmental impact of your decisions using data from UC Berkeley. It then compares this data to your neighbors and friends, so you see just how your environmental impact lines up against those around you.
  • GoodGuide: If you’re ready to start shopping for more eco-friendly products, but don’t have the time to research every single product you’re considering, you need GoodGuide. This app allows you to input information about a general product that you’re looking for, and provides you with safe, healthy, green, and ethical options for you to choose from.
  • Carma: This carpooling app makes it easy for you to find others in your area who are headed in the same direction as you with whom you can share your commute. It also allows you to split costs with other riders, so you save money while reducing traffic and emissions.
  • Images of Change: Sometimes, it takes a little bit of perspective (and, perhaps, ensuing shock) to spur action – and that’s what this app offers.  NASA provides the app with images from its Global Climate Change, comparing side-by-side views of the same shot on the planet many years apart. If climate change seems like an ambiguous concept to you, this app may give you a much-needed reality check.

No matter how big or small your carbon footprint, each one of us needs to be doing more to protect the environment. How do you plan to make a positive environmental impact this spring and beyond? Share with us by:

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Work Hard & Be Nice: How Askinosie Chocolate is Changing the World

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Work Hard & Be Nice: How Askinosie Chocolate is Changing the World

by Kate Vandeveld

As you may have noticed, we’re really into the idea of changing the world for the better. And, similar to almost everyone else in the world, we also LOVE chocolate. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to learn about Askinosie Chocolate – a social enterprise that creates sustainable change through the production and distribution of chocolate.

© Askinosie Chocolate 

© Askinosie Chocolate 

There are many things that make Askinosie Chocolate stand out. To start, their commitment to social responsibility, unique story, friendly and approachable messaging, and beautiful packaging. We had the chance to chat with Lawren Askinosie, the company’s Director of Sales and Marketing (as well as the founder’s daughter), who gave us the inside scoop on the magic behind the brand, as well as their impact.


Tell us a bit about Askinosie Chocolate and what you do.

My dad started the factory in 2006, after over 20 years as a criminal defense attorney, because he was ready for a change. I was still in high school at the time, but immediately became intimately involved with our new lives as chocolate makers, especially on the marketing side of things.

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For a while, at 15, I was the one handling our social media, writing our press releases, writing website copy, and packaging copy. In fact, those things are still part of my job, except at the time I had no idea what I was doing. I learned so much as I went along though, and it was fun. Even now, we're still such a small team that we're often learning on the fly. With each new opportunity or project, we learn a plethora of new skills because, well, there's often no one else around to do it and somebody has to!

I started college a bit early and graduated a bit early, because I was honestly so passionate about what we were creating that I couldn't wait to jump in full-time at the factory (which I did immediately). I have been in my role as Director of Sales & Marketing for a little over 4 years, and every day is completely different.

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We have a little saying around the factory: "It's not about the chocolate, it's about the chocolate," which sums up our philosophy of this zen-like balance we strive for between an excellent product and doing as much good as we can. Whether it's our Direct Trade practices and profit sharing with our farmer partners, our Sustainable Lunch ProgramsChocolate University, or our commitment to traveling the globe in search of the best beans and developing relationships with the amazing farmers who harvest them, it all makes our chocolate better.


As you’ve noted, Askinosie Chocolates has developed a number of incredible programs that provide food, education, and agency to members of the communities you work with. Why did you choose to incorporate social responsibility into your business model in such a major way?

We incorporate social responsibility into our business because, well, our business is founded on it. The very foundation of what we do is based on Direct Trade; without it, we wouldn't be able to make great chocolate, plain and simple. The direct relationships with farmers ensures that we have the highest quality beans possible, and the profit sharing encourages the farmers to continue to produce great beans, because it produces better chocolate, which people love and want to purchase!

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As for the other work we do, it just makes sense. It made sense for us to start Chocolate University, which is funded mainly by our weekly tours, because we wanted to serve our community, particularly our neighborhood. And it also made sense for us to get involved in our origin communities. We've worked so hard to develop meaningful relationships with our farmer partners; it seemed like a direct extension to then work with their local schools and their children and help them meet this need for nutrition, which is why we began the Sustainable Lunch Programs.

Perhaps the most exciting development of the Sustainable Lunch Programs is that within 5 years, our aim is for us to be out of the picture. Right now, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) at local schools in the communities we work with make and harvest various local products, such as rice and cocoa rounds. We then ship these products back to the United States with our cocoa beans and sell them across the country. 100% of the profits from these products are returned to the PTA to fund lunches for each student every day. Through this process, we're basically providing them access to the market. We're also teaching them to do it themselves, so within 5 years (or less), they won't need us anymore. We see that as true sustainability. In fact, both communities in which we have the Sustainable Lunch Programs (Tanzania the Philippines) are already working toward this, and are well on their way to taking their products to the next level on their own. Of course, we’ll still be involved in their communities in other ways, because being deeply involved in the communities we work with is at the core of what we do.

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In a nutshell, we believe the social purpose of Askinosie Chocolate is to not only compensate our farmers fairly and treat them like the business partners they are, but to connect those farmers with our customers – to build relationships based on mutual understanding and appreciation, which makes both our chocolate and our business better. We believe transparency, social responsibility, and sustainability aren't just a part of great chocolate, they create great chocolate. It all goes hand-in-hand. 



How has your role at the company evolved over the years, and what is your favorite part of what you do now?

My role has evolved as the company evolved. I work alongside my Dad and our COO to run the company, and even though we manage different small teams with various responsibilities, we all work extremely closely with one another (there are only 15 of us full-time!). It's very hands-on.

Many of my responsibilities are the same as they were in high school; and in some ways they're just more challenging. Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman's and a mentor to our factory says, "Success means you get better problems--but there will always be problems." I'd say we're lucky enough now that we encounter some pretty major problems! When I'm feeling optimistic (ha!), I like to think of them as opportunities; opportunities for me to learn something, to do better. And in many ways that's how my role has evolved the most: I've become a pretty solid problem solver and I get a chance to improve that skill on a weekly, if not daily basis.

My responsibilities are so varied that I really don't have a favorite aspect, although I must say that traveling to origin countries to meet with farmers, inspect cocoa beans, and work on community development projects is not only one of my favorite and most rewarding parts of my job – those trips have also been some of my most treasured life experiences as well. 

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What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own social enterprise?

I don't know that I have anything that revelatory to share here that many other experts haven't already shared, but a piece of advice I happen to believe in wholeheartedly is this:

Work hard and be nice to people. In my (albeit limited) experience I've found that pursuing tirelessly what it is that you think is right or good, while also being kind and compassionate tends to yield pretty positive results. 

 

We couldn’t agree more: With passion, kindness, and tenacity, anything is possible. Lawren’s upbeat personality and infectious enthusiasm for change and chocolate are apparent in Askinosie Chocolate’s social media presence – check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And we highly recommend that you buy some of their chocolate – but that almost goes without saying.

Do you know an individual or organization who is changing the world in a unique way? Tell us about them in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We would love to help share their stories. 

 



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Our Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts That Do Good

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Our Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts That Do Good

by Kate Vandeveld

Holiday shopping is a notoriously dread-inducing task for some, but it really doesn’t have to be. In fact, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to make an impact – and you can do a lot of it online (phew).

As you may know by now, we believe in doing well by doing good, and we try to take every opportunity to support businesses that are promoting economic empowerment, equality, health, and sustainability. No matter what the people on your gift list are into, you can find the perfect gift for them and make an impact at the same time.

Here are our ideas for awesome and impactful gifts during this year’s holiday season:

 

The Gift of Empowerment

“How it's made matters. Empower people to rise above poverty through the gifts you give.”                                                                                                                                                                      – 31 Bits

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31 Bits is a social enterprise that uses fashion and design to empower Ugandan women to rise above poverty through a variety of community-based initiatives focusing on financial sustainability, physical and mental wellness, social support, and community impact. One part of their model is that they provide women with the materials that they need to make beautiful pieces of jewelry that 31 Bits then sells internationally on their behalf. Proceeds from sales go back to the women and into their empowerment program.

Not only is 31 Bits making a huge impact in the communities they’re working with, but the pieces that they sell are absolutely beautiful. See for yourself here – you’ll be glad you did.

If you’re looking for other fashionable gifts that empower communities and individuals, check out these other beautiful shops:

  • Sseko Designs: An ethical fashion brand that hires high potential women in Uganda to make sandals to enable them to earn money through dignified employment.
  • Rose & Fitzgerald: Social enterprise that sources handmade products from Ugandan artisans, empowering them by providing consistent business and opportunities for training and growth.

 

The Gift That Gives Back

“[Make] a conscious choice to do good by making not one, but two kids happy.”                                                                                                                                                  – Everything Happy

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Another way that you can give back with your holiday purchases is by supporting businesses that subscribe to the “buy one, give one” philosophy. For every item that these companies sell, they give a similar item to communities in need. One such company is Everything Happy, a social enterprise that sells blankets, stuffed animals, and other items for babies and children. For each purchase, a similar item is distributed to children in hospitals and orphanages all over the world.

So instead of going to Toys ‘R’ Us to shop for the little ones in your life, you can make two kids happy by shopping at Everything Happy – check them out.

If you’re looking to purchase gifts for a different age bracket, here are some other companies who use the “buy one, give one” model:

  • Sackcloth & Ashes: For each high-quality blanket purchased, they deliver a fleece blanket to your local homeless shelter.
  • LSTN Headphones: Every pair of headphones that they sell helps provide hearing aids to a person in need.

 

The Gift of Health

“Investing in health is one of the smartest placed bets you can make.”                                                                                                                                       – Jenna Tanenbaum, Green Blender Co-Founder

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Making healthy choices is so important, and it can be especially hard to do during the holiday season, when food and fun are at the forefront of our minds. That’s why social enterprises like Green Blender that empower people to take control of their health are so important. If you purchase a weekly Green Blender subscription for someone on your list who lives in the Northeast, they’ll receive five smoothie recipes and the pre-portioned ingredients that they’ll need to make  each week for as long as you’d like. And if that someone lives elsewhere, you can opt for the Green Blender holiday pack, which includes ten holiday smoothie recipes plus a superfood sampler pack.

If you’re interested in giving someone a different kind of healthy gift, try these options:

  • Local CSAs: Deliver local, seasonal, and fresh raw foods to a person’s home or workplace.
  • graze: Delivers healthy snacks delivered to someone’s home or workplace. 

 

The Gift of Sustainability

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When you think of eco-friendly gifts, recycled and upcycled goods might come to mind – but those aren’t your only options. One awesome (and different!) sustainable gift option is a local bike share membership. These days, many cities have affordable bike sharing systems for local residents to use to get around. You can purchase an annual subscription for the active city dweller on your list. This way, instead of driving to work or the grocery store, they’ll have the eco-friendly (and healthy!) option of biking, without having to purchase a bike and all of the things that come with it.

Here are just a few of the bike share options available in U.S. cities:

If you’d rather opt for more traditional and tangible eco-friendly gifts, start here:

  • Hipcycle: Upcycled goods that are durable, stylish and priced fairly.
  • eartheasy: Carefully selected gifts with lower environmental impact. 

 

And if you have someone on your list who seems to have everything already, but you still want to get them a meaningful gift, check out DonorsChoose.org gift cards. Here’s how it works: You purchase the gift card (which is 100% tax deductible), and the person you give it to gets to choose a classroom project to support using the funds on the card. In return, that person will receive photos and thank-you notes from the classroom he or she chose to help.

No matter what kind of gifts you’re giving this year, we encourage you to shop small business and look for eco-friendly options whenever possible. Choosing to make a positive impact through our purchases has never been easier, and we promise it will be a huge hit (while also making you feel good).

If you’re looking for even more ways to make an impact this holiday season, we have you covered – check out our suggestions here.

Have other ideas for fun and impactful holiday gifts? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We want to hear from you! 

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How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems

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How Everyday People Are Solving the World’s Biggest Problems

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Changemakers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are larger-than-life CEOs of social enterprises, some are fighting for policy change, some are doing on-the-ground work to provide healthcare, and some are just people who got tired of seeing a problem that seems fixable go unfixed. More and more, we’re seeing changemakers in the latter category – people who encounter a problem and just know that there has to be a way to change it.

Here are a couple of those inspiring changemakers: 

The Ocean Cleanup

At just 16 years old, Boyan Slat was bothered by something that he encountered on a dive in Greece – everywhere he turned, he saw plastic bags floating around in the water. He was frustrated by the problem, and set out to solve it. During secondary school, he spent a year and a half researching plastic pollution, and learning about the problems associated with cleaning it up. He developed a passive cleaning concept called The Ocean Cleanup that would attach floating barriers to the sea bed that would concentrate plastic before extracting it from the ocean. With this concept, the collection process would be entirely driven by natural winds and currents. The concept also uses solid barriers, rather than nets to avoid capturing sea life. Slat led a team of 100 through a feasibility testing process, and the concept was proven to be likely feasible and financially viable. He then launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly $2.2 million – money that will allow The Ocean Cleanup to begin the pilot phase. 

FreshPaper by Fenugreen

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When Kavita Shukla drank some tap water while visiting India, her grandmother gave her a mixture of spices to keep her from getting sick. Shukla realized that this same concoction could be used to do something that would help many others. After extensive research and testing, she found that her grandmother’s remedy could also be used to keep food fresh, and she founded Fenugreen. Fenugreen is “addressing the enormous, yet often overlooked global challenge of food spoilage with a simple innovation – FreshPaper.” FreshPaper gives the 1.6 billion people in the world without refrigeration access to fresh food, and prevents food spoilage at food banks and pantries that have otherwise struggled to keep fresh and healthy food. Shukla’s innovative solution to this problem is mitigating the 25% of our global food supply that is lost to spoilage each year.

Eco-Fuel Africa

Or take Sanga Moses, a man who revolutionized the fuel industry in in Uganda because he was frustrated by the fact that his young sister was spending so much of her time tracking down wood for the family’s cooking fuel. At the time, Moses was an accountant in Kampala, the country’s capital, but he promptly quit his job and used his $500 savings to develop a source of affordable and clean cooking fuel. Eventually, Moses came up with a machine that converts charcoal into briquettes that replace the need for wood or other makeshift fuels that have negative effects on the environment and health. Moses developed this concept so that women in his village would no longer have to use their valuable time in search of wood, but the positive effects of the concept actually extend far beyond that. Now, thousands of Ugandan farmers use the system to convert agricultural waste into charcoal, augmenting their incomes and creating jobs for thousands more. 

These changemakers didn’t initially set out to change the world, but they saw a problem and were tenacious in their efforts to fix it.  And because of that tenacity, people like Boyan Slant, Kavita Shukla, and Sanga Moses are changing the world.

Do you know of an everyday changemaker who is solving a large-scale global issue? Let us know! We would love to write about their accomplishments.

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